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Day at sea – out of Jamaica

Dec 6, 2018 – Port Antonio, Jamaica to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic aboard the Royal Clipper

2018 Caribbean Sail Cruise

Map of a day at sea between Port Antonio, Jamaica and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
A day at sea between Port Antonio, Jamaica and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

I sleep in until 8:30AM this morning since this is a sea day, and go to the Piano Bar for pastries and a cappuccino. It’s much quieter in this area than the main dining room, where the feeding frenzy is well underway.

I decide to climb the rigging to the crows nest this morning, so I get my GoPro action cam ready with a head strap, leave all my other stuff in the cabin except my room card, and head forward. The sports crew are there to put on a harness, clip you onto the safety line, and give instructions. Getting to the passengers’ crows nest involves climbing a rope ladder to the mid-point of the second forward mast, where there is another sports crew person up there to help unclip and for safety. Two or three passengers at a time are in the crows nest, since it is quite a big platform.

After climbing down, I’m thirsty, so I go to the nearby bar on deck for a couple of good-tasting German Flensburger draught beers. I have a chat with the German guy who was ahead of me in the climb, and a couple of Brits. I also go forward and spend some time on the bow net watching the bow wave dancing in the sun glint (see banner image above).

At lunch I sit with a couple from Thunder Bay (Ontario, Canada). We talk about our travels in southern Africa, and South Africa in particular. The food aboard the ship is very good, and they offer lots of variety, including vegetarian. Drinks are reasonably priced – 3.50€ for a glass of Flensburger draught beer, which is about CAD$4.25 Smoking is allowed in designated spots outside only, which is fine with me. Close to half the passengers are German, but the English-speaking Americans, Canadians, and Brits are the biggest combined group, with French-speakers being a small third group.

Sunset over the Caribbean framed by the stern wheel

I go to the top deck forward near the bridge to observe the sunset, and see the Green Flash. What I observed might be better described as a green glow, since there was some cloud on the horizon partially obscuring the Sun. I captured it on video with my iPhone.

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Port Antonio, Jamaica

Dec 5, 2018 – Port Antonio, Jamaica

2018 Caribbean Sail Cruise

I sleep in until 8AM, get dressed and go to the dining room for breakfast. I have a cappuccino with some pastries, fruit, and a spoonful of scrambled eggs. The ship arrives in Port Antonio on schedule at 10AM. There’s a pretty serious crunch as the ship makes contact with the concrete pier in the stern. The crew make some repairs while we’re docked.

I find this sailing ship is a photographer’s dream if you look up at the fantastic rigging and sails, and it is also a nightmare, because there are lines and masts everywhere obstructing clear views overboard!

I am on the shore excursion Highlights of Port Antonio. First stop in our minibus is to view Trident Castle, a German-built modern castle located on a beautiful cove, which mainly caters to weddings. We don’t go into the castle, but instead carry on to the Jamaica Palace Hotel, which is our first stop. It is a very striking hotel, and has surprisingly reasonable room rates starting at US$120/night. We are given a Rum Punch welcome drink, and a tour of the extensive grounds including their art gallery.

Jamaica Palace Hotel plaza and villas

Along the way, we learn about the resident crocodiles in Springs area, and how the national fruit Aki opens naturally and is eaten with salt fish (the national dish). We make a stop at the Blue Lagoon, which I find underwhelming. Trident Castle, Jamaica Palace Hotel, and Blue Lagoon are all touted as being used as locations for movies.

Frenchman’s Cove, beach, and freshwater stream

Our last stop is Frenchman’s Cove, where there is a private beach for us to lounge on and swim from. There is a freshwater stream beside the beach flowing into a saltwater cove – both of which are very pretty. Unfortunately, the water in both is quite cold, so I don’t bother trying to swim or snorkel, instead preferring to sit on the beach in the shade of a palm tree. The beach is not crowded, and we have a couple of hours here to enjoy ourselves before returning to the ship.

All 44 sails are set as we leave Port Antonio and then they are taken down again once the Sun sets and the ship is underway. Being a square-rigged sailing ship, the Royal Clipper needs a following wind to actually proceed under sail. The southeast winds we are encountering are virtually on the nose of the ship, hence the reason for the sails being taken down when the ship is underway, although the stay sails are often left up to improve the ship’s stability.

At dinner this evening, I’m seated with a Texan couple who are both real characters. She submitted a request for one of the desserts appearing on the menu this evening – Floating Island with prune. I ordered it, and found it tastes good, with thin custard on the bottom, merengue, and a dollop of pureed prune on top.

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Boarding the Royal Clipper

Dec 4, 2018 – Boarding the Royal Clipper & departing Montego Bay, Jamaica

2018 Caribbean Sail Cruise

I sleep in until about 8AM, meet my friends downstairs for breakfast, and then it’s time to return to my room to pack. We check out at 12PM, check our bags with the hotel and go across the street to the Starbucks at Doctor’s Cave Beach for coffee, snacks, and to hang out for awhile. We return to the hotel lobby and leave for the ship a bit after 3PM for a 4PM check-in.

We have to clear Jamaican customs and immigration before we embark the ship. They shake us down for a Departure Fee of US$35 each, applicable to anyone who stays in Jamaica for more than 24 hours! Once aboard, the usual cruise ship check-in takes place, where they take passports, preauthorize a credit card to pay the shipboard account, photograph everyone, and issue a passenger ID card to run the accounts on and for leaving/returning the ship at the various ports-of-call (in place of a passport).

Unfurling one of the four stay sails as the ship departs Montego Bay

After everyone is aboard, there is a lifeboat drill, which is conducted in English, German and French, so it takes quite awhile! I go to dinner with my friends, where we are seated with an American and two Brits. The meal is lovely – I have escargot and a salad to start, sea bass for my main course, and three almond cookies with strawberry sauce for dessert. I finish with a cappuccino, which costs 2.50 Euros (CD$3.75).

The crew set two of the four staysails during the evening departure of the Royal Clipper from Montego Bay. They play Conquest of Paradise every time they raise sails on the trip, which gets a bit tedious after awhile!

Champagne is served on deck as we depart the port. It is a lovely evening with warm tropical breezes in my face. Despite not having stabilizers, the ship rides surprisingly well as we pull offshore for the overnight passage to Port Antonio – a small town further along the coast of Jamaica.

Overnight route of Royal Clipper from Montego Bay to Port Antonio, Jamaica
Overnight route of Royal Clipper
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Montego Bay, Jamaica

Dec 3, 2018 – Deja Resort, Montego Bay, Jamaica

2018 Caribbean Sail Cruise

My source of early morning cappuccino at Starbucks
My source of early morning cappuccino at Starbucks

I had a good sleep last night, as I recover from the 20+ hours traveling to get here. The resort’s espresso bar isn’t open when I get up shortly after 7AM, so I go across the street to the Starbucks to get my cappuccino – essential to start my day!

I decide to go for a swim at the adjacent Doctor’s Cave Beach, which as Deja Resort guests, we have privileges at. So I change into my swimsuit, put on some shorts and beach shoes, grab a beach towel and get an entry ticket from the front desk. I have a lovely swim in the warm ocean before the crowds descend on the place an hour or two later. After a shower and a change of clothes, I go downstairs for some breakfast, and have a second cup of coffee.

My friends call to say they are going to the beach and invite me to join them. I sit on the deck in the shade while they have a swim, and then we sit and chat for an hour or so after they get out of the water. A Jamaican man at the top of the stairs checking admission tickets seems to want to talk with us about Bob Marley and the start of reggae on the island and overseas. He’s very nice but rather talkative, so we end up staying there a bit longer than we had otherwise planned!

I have a cappuccino in the resort’s espresso bar, and later some lunch downstairs – more delicious fried fish, rice and veggies. I take it easy this afternoon at the resort, alternating between napping, working on my photos and journal on my laptop, and staying cool sipping Jamaican Red Stripe draught lager. Beer and wine, mixed drinks, espresso, and food is all served as part of the all-inclusive service at the resort. This is a pretty sweet deal considering we paid less here for a room than available elsewhere in the area.

After we have dinner at the resort, I finish my journaling and photo work on my laptop before going to bed. We board the ship tomorrow afternoon, so I want to be well-rested and ready to go.

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Vancouver to Victoria

July 9, 2018 Monday – Burnaby & Vancouver to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018
Haida Bear by Bill Reid - UBC Museum of Anthropology
Haida Bear by Bill Reid – UBC Museum of Anthropology

I discover this morning that the hotel has two Level 2 chargers and dedicated EV charging parking spots opposite the reception area, so I ask them to turn the chargers on so I can top up before checking out later this morning. I see a full 48 amps from the J1772 connection, so I gain about 75 kms before I check out. I walk three blocks down Kingsway to get a cappuccino at a Starbucks and then go for breakfast in the hotel breakfast room (an adjacent Chinese restaurant) before packing up.

I drive over to the Kitsilano area of Vancouver to meet my cousin and her friend. We go to the UBC Museum of Anthropology, which I haven’t visited since it opened about 40 years ago when I lived in Vancouver! The artifacts, totems, textiles, and other displays in the Museum are spectacular. We stay about an hour and a half to take it all in before leaving to go for lunch at an Italian trattoria on West 4th Avenue, close to my cousin’s place.

I then say my goodbyes and drive to the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. I arrive in time for the 3PM sailing, but I end up waiting while two sailings leave before boarding the 5PM ferry. I go to the Seawwest Lounge, pay $12, and help myself to coffee and snacks while I work on the photos and videos from my road trip. It is a spectacularly scenic sunny day as the ferry sails through the southern Gulf Islands to Swartz Bay. Although I have enjoyed this 2-week road trip, it is good to finally be back home!

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Okanagan to Vancouver

July 8, 2018 Sunday – Okanagan Falls to Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018
Okanagan Falls and Skaha Lake
Okanagan Falls and Skaha Lake

After another scrumptious breakfast at Peachcliff B&B, I fly my Mavic Pro drone above the B&B, taking high definition video and photos of Peachcliff, the Okanagan Valley, Skaha Lake, Okanagan Falls, and I also capture the cyclists riding in the Prospera Granfondo Axel Merckx event this morning, which my friend and his son are riding in.

I leave at 10:30AM after most of the serious riders are clear of the route, however it is slow going as I head north out of Okanagan Falls to the turnoff onto Highway 3A to head south to Keremeos. Once I’m on 3A it is an easy drive. I recharge my Tesla at the Keremeos Fast DC charger for about a half hour (see banner image above) before continuing to Highway 3 through Princeton and Manning Park. I recharge at the Tesla Supercharger at Hope and indulge in another small Blizzard frozen dessert from Dairy Queen, which is right next door!

The drive from Hope to Burnaby on the Trans-Canada Highway is very stressful, since the traffic around Abbotsford and Langley in the Fraser Valley is quite heavy despite it being a Sunday afternoon. Once I cross the Port Mann bridge into Coquitlam and Burnaby, traffic improves. I find my way through Burnaby to my Best Western Plus hotel on Kingsway and check in by 6PM. I’m very tired as I settle into my room, and then meet a friend for dinner at Minoa’s Greek Taverna (review) down Kingsway a few blocks. It’s great to reconnect with my friend again – we both attended BCIT together (Photogrammetry & Surveying) way back in the 1970s! The food and service at this Greek restaurant is excellent  as usual.

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Calgary to Revelstoke

July 5, 2018 Calgary, Alberta to Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

I take my time leaving Hotel Alma this morning. Traffic is light as I drive west from Calgary through the Foothills and the Kananaskis area to Canmore, where I stop to recharge my Tesla at the Supercharger. I grab a cappuccino from Beamers Coffee, which is about a 7-minute walk south of the Supercharger. Back at the Supercharger, while enjoying my coffee I take a photo of the old Moon over the south end of Mt. Rundle before resuming my drive.

A bird-of-prey flying in front of Castle Mountain
A bird-of-prey flying in front of Castle Mountain

The very popular Castle Junction rest stop offers the classic view of Castle Mountain, the Sawback Range and the Bow River. I use three different focal lengths of lenses with my dSLR to capture the scene (see banner image above for cropped fisheye view). I discover later that my telephoto shot of Castle Mountain also captured a raptor in flight near the mountain – bonus! I pull into the rest stop at Eldon in Banff National Park for a rest and to have some lunch. Before resuming my drive, I take a panoramic photo of Castle Mountain from this viewpoint – there is spectacular scenery everywhere you look in the Canadian Rockies!

My Tesla Model S charging at the Golden Supercharger
My Tesla Model S charging at the Golden Supercharger

I recharge at the Golden Supercharger for a half hour before driving Rogers Pass to Revelstoke. Tackling the highway construction westbound doesn’t seem as bad as the eastbound experience. This is the second-longest driving segment for my road trip, so I’m tired by the time I arrive in Revelstoke later in the afternoon.

Pan seared pacific halibut atop a warmed salad at the Village Idiot Bistro
Pan seared pacific halibut at the Village Idiot Bistro

I’m staying at the Swiss Chalet Motel in Revelstoke on the main drag: Victoria Ave. The Village Idiot Bistro is recommended by the desk clerk, so I go there for dinner. It’s a very casual place with a patio going full bore since it is about 27°C downtown. I sit inside out of the sun and have a High Country Kolsch draught (Mt. Begbie Brewery). It is kind of sweet, but it’s a good summer beer that goes well with my grilled halibut which is excellent, and is served with grilled tomatoes, green beans, onions, and goat cheese – a very heart-healthy choice.

I have a Standard Queen Room in the motel, which is small, but nicely updated with a Queen bed, fast Internet, full bathroom, and air-conditioning. Each unit has a parking spot right outside the door, and the office doubles as the breakfast room. The motel is centrally located – it’s an easy five minute walk to the railway museum, and a 15-minute walk to the shops downtown. There is free parking downtown if you drive.

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Looking for Mars in the Rockies

July 3, 2018 Tuesday – Martian Analogues in the Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

After having an early breakfast in my hotel room for the second day in a row, our tour bus leaves early bound for the Canadian Rockies. This all-day tour is hosted by three geologists (and RASC members) who share their knowledge about the landforms found in the Canadian Rockies, and how this geomorphology can be used as an analogue to the surface conditions found on Mars. We are all given handouts authored by our hosts, with scientific  references, diagrams, and notes. We also have Dr. Tania Harrison along on this tour, our banquet speaker who talked about finding water on Mars.

After making a quick shopping stop in Cochrane, we drive through Canmore and through the Canadian Rockies north to Banff. Along the way, our guides point out alluvial fans, erosion, rocky glaciers, snow fields, and other analogues of features found on Mars. There is snow falling as we drive over the Glacier Parkway summit. We have a rest stop at Saskatchewan Crossing on our way to the Columbia Icefield, part of the Athabaska Glacier. I visited here in 1968 and remember the tongue of the glacier being much closer to the road. There are markers showing how the glacier has retreated over the years, as we walk up to the tongue of the glacier.

We return to our hotel quite late, so I drive a few who were also on the tour and myself to Nick’s Steakhouse and Pizza, where we have a nice dinner along with excellent service.

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RASC General Assembly 2018 in Calgary

June 29 to July 1, 2018 – Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada’s General Assembly held at the University of Calgary is probably not too interesting for people who are not members of RASC. That said, I’m going to combine the three day conference into one report on this page, just to complete my road trip travelogue.

June 28, 2018 – Arrival at the University of Calgary and the Welcome BBQ

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; First Nations dancing at the opening of the General Assembly

I arrive in Calgary in the late afternoon. The RASC General Assembly (GA) registration desk is setup in the hotel lobby, so after I get settled in my room, I go downstairs to pick up my delegate’s package. I connect with a few people I know in the lobby while we wait for buses to take us to the Members’ Welcome BBQ dinner and First Nations performances at the Rothney Observatory, in the country south of Calgary. We also get to tour the observatories operating from this site.

June 29, 2018 – First day of the General Assembly

JoeTourist: Calgary &emdash; Stampede breakfast

The Calgary Stampede puts on a Stampede Breakfast for delegates this morning before the GA starts, serving pancakes, eggs, bacon and sausage in the end-field zone of the home stadium of the Calgary Stampeders Canadian football club.

Dr. Robert Thirsk, astronaut and Chancellor of the University of Calgary welcomes delegates to Calgary and the University. Today is his last day as Chancellor, and our event is his last function before leaving. He tells us that being in space showed him the interconnection of the natural world with humans. He illustrates the point with many spectacular photos taken from the International Space Station, and also speculates on the question –Will we be here into the future? (100 years probably, 1,000 years probably not), and also reviews the next steps humans will make in space. He offers the opinion that a Moon base will be part of this new wave of exploration.

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; Wildflowers in the grass

In the afternoon, I take the Nocturnal Preserve Tour to the Ann & Sandy Cross Conservation Area south of Calgary. This is a RASC-recognized nocturnal preserve, which supports the notion that pristine night skies are not only good for humans, but all creatures on this Earth. We all depend on darkness to restore our health while we sleep, which helps all lifeforms prosper, not just those that are active at night.

We walk part of their extensive property to appreciate the varied ecosystems found in what is now mainly the farmland of southern Alberta. Grass suitable for grazing cattle displaces the native grasses, which disrupts the ecology in the area, but remediation is possible.

After dinner, the Plaskett Medal Award Lecture is “Dicke’s Superrradiance in Astrophysics” by Dr. Fereshteh Rajabi, Postdoctoral Fellow in the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Rajabi gets into quantum mechanics and masers, and how they cause celestial objects to emit previously-unexplained bursts of intense radiation. I’m always happy to see such smart people working to understand our universe better, despite me not always fully appreciating what they are describing!

June 30, 2018 – Second day of the General Assembly

1896 Solar Eclipse observed from Bodo, Norway by Mary Protctor
1896 Solar Eclipse observed from Bodo, Norway by Mary Protctor

The Annual General Meeting is held in the morning, and our President highlights the robotic telescope located in the mountains of California which RASC recently acquired, and is in the process of making available online to all members. Other presentations of note today include: RASC Calgary Centre’s 60th anniversary and history; Early Women Astronomers in RASC; Aurora image processing using Hugin software; Eclipsing Binaries; NOVA Junior Program (astronomy basics); Space for all Learners (bringing astronomy to undergraduates); Telescope in “Rainy” Victoria Celebrating 100 years of looking up (the historic Plaskett telescope located near Victoria); Public Outreach at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (the observatory was/is a tourism draw); Minor Planets (asteroids that might hit Earth, and landing missions on small rocks in space); Once Upon an Eclipse (upcoming eclipses); First Race for the moon 1609-51 (first observations of the Moon);

After a buffet dinner with my fellow astronomers as part of the conference, I attend the public lecture: “The Golden Age of Solar System Exploration” given by Emily Lakdawalla, The Planetary Society. Emily reviews many of the more exciting recent missions to explore our solar system: Hayabusa2, New Horizons, and Cassini, to name a few. She also highlights how amateur astronomers are using data from these missions, and how they are contributing to the resulting scientific discoveries. Emily takes lots of questions from the audience.

July 1, 2018 – Final day of the General Assembly

Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover - NASA photo
Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity Rover – NASA photo

There are more presentations this morning, concentrated on the history of RASC and astronomy: RASC in Travelling Mode (historic solar eclipse expeditions); Styles of Observing in the RASC Since 1868 (taken from the RASC archives, including telescope-making); RASC and the Space age (amateurs as both participants and spectators); The Cultural/Social Anthropology within RASC (who makes up the ranks of RASC members?); Female Participation in the RASC (RASC leads as an inclusive society in Canada).

The speaker at our banquet is Dr. Tanya Harrison “The Past and Present of Water on Mars”. She brings the missions on Mars to life, including the Curiosity Rover, which she was involved with. She also describes what “water on Mars” really means. There were lots of questions…a fascinating talk!

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Golden to Calgary

June 28, 2018 – Golden, BC to Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Victoria to Calgary road trip 2018

After eating the very modest continental breakfast the motel offers, I drive across the street to charge at the Tesla Supercharger in Golden. I pickup an acceptable cappuccino from the nearby MacDonald’s drive-thru before starting my journey. This is one of the shorter road trip segments today, which I planned to allow me to enjoy the scenery along the way through Yoho and Banff National Parks and the Kananaskis area on my way to Calgary. The Canadian Rocky Mountains are awe-inspiring on this beautiful sunny day as I take my time along the route.

Flying drones in national parks is prohibited in Canada, so I wait until I’m out of Banff National Park near Canmore before launching my drone, and capturing some beautiful panoramic photos and video of Mount Rundle and the Bow River. I stop to recharge my Model S at the Canmore Supercharger, and have a quick bowl of soup at Craig’s Waystation restaurant before continuing down the valley and emerging from the Foothills and onto the flat prairie farmlands east of Calgary.

Bow River Valley from JoeTourist on Vimeo.

I am staying at the Hotel Alma on the campus of the University of Calgary, which is easy to access from the Trans-Canada Highway. As I park in front of the hotel, I meet several astronomy buddies even before I check-in. The hotel arranges for me to charge my vehicle at the Level-2 chargers available on the campus in Lot 22, which I take advantage of a couple of times during my week-long stay.

JoeTourist: Rural southern Alberta &emdash; First Nations dancing at the opening of the General Assembly

The RASC General Assembly registration desk is setup in the hotel lobby, so after I get settled in my room, I go downstairs to pick up my delegate’s package. I connect with a few people I know in the lobby while we wait for buses to take us to the Members’ Welcome BBQ dinner and First Nations performances at the Rothney Observatory, in the country south of Calgary. We also get to tour the observatories operating from this site.